Comparative study of structuralism & deconstruction


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Comparative study of structuralism & deconstruction

  1. 1. 2007 年4 月 第30 卷 第2 期 中国英语教学(双月刊) CELEA Journal(Bim onthly) Apr.2007 Vol.30 No.2 THE COMPARATIVE STUDY OF STRUCTURALISM & DECONSTRUCTION Li Wei &Ding Yan Inner-Mongolia University of Science and Technology Abstract   Deconstruction and Structuralism are two of the twentieth century western criticism schools,and their relationship stillis an issue that needs to be syste matically clarified.The paper presents a review study on the particular relationship of Deconstruction and Structuralism by co m paring these two criticism schools fro m the respects of their origins ,features ,and limitations in the chronological view.It tends to prove that Deconstruction stems fro m the Structuralism ,however Deconstruction differs itself fro m Structuralism in certain key features and bases itself upon a certain characteristic critique of Structuralism . Key w ords structuralism ;Deconstruction ;relationship I.Introduction Criticism is for nothing but works of art ,w hich is one of the pro minent featuresin twentieth century western criticism schools. To so m e extent ,Russian form alism ,Anglo-Am erican New Criticism , Structuralism and Deconstruction run through the w hole twentieth century western criticism history and exert great influence on literary criticism. There is a close relationship a m ong the m ,especially Deconstruction and Structuralism . Deconstruction stems fro m the Structuralism ,but breaks with Structuralism in certain key features and bases itself upon a certain characteristic critique of Structuralism .If Structuralism were father ,Deconstruction might be regarded as son.So ,the best way to understand Deconstruction is to understand Structuralism . II.Structuralism 1.Definition and Origin What is Structuralism ?Definitely speaking ,Structuralism is a m ode of thinking and a m ethod of analysis practiced in 20th century socialsciences and hu m anities.Methodologically ,it analyzeslarge-scale systems by exa mining the relations and functions of the sm allest constituent elem ents of such syste ms , w hich range fro m hu m an languages and cultural practices to folktales and literary texts.Structuralism had its originsin the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure ,a Swisslinguist ,w hose Coursein General Linguistics published in 1916 and beca m e the m ostim portant source of Structuralism .Saussure sinsight was centered not on speech itself but on the underlying rules and conventions enabling language to function.By analyzing the social or collective dim ension of language rather than individual speech ,he pioneered and pro m oted the study of gra m m ar rather than usage ,rules rather than expressions ,m odels rather than data ,langue(language)rather than parole(speech).Saussure was interested in the infrastructure of language that is co m m on to all speakers and that function on an unconscious level. His inquiry was concerned with deep structures rather than surface pheno m ena and m ade no reference to historical evolution.(In structuralistterminology ,it was synchronic ,existing now ,rather than diachronic ,existing and changing over tim e.) 111
  2. 2. 2.Structuralism and Literature Although Saussurian linguistics is Structuralism s illustration ,w hat is of interest is how Structuralism analogically extends Saussure s terms into the analysis of literature.Structuralist critics believe that all ele m ents of literature m ay be understood as parts of a system of signs. Roland Barthes ,a French semiotician and literary critic ,was one of the first to apply the structuralistideas to the study ofliterature w ho once said“Literature is sim ply a language ,a system of signs.Its being[être]is not in its m essage , but in this“syste m”.Similarly ,it is not for criticism to reconstitute the m essage of a w ork ,but only its system ,exactly as the linguist does not decipher the m eaning of a sentence ,but establishes the form al structure w hich allows the m eaning to be conveyed(Brown 2006).Barthes ,using Saussure s linguistic theory as a m odel and e m ploying se miotic theory ,m akesit possible to analyze literary textsystem atically , even scientifically. So m e structuralist critics followed Barthes propose that all narratives can be considered variations on certain basic universal narrative patterns.The text ,therefore ,is a function of a syste m ,and every sentence the author writes is m ade up of the already written.In other words ,any literary works has no origin ,and authors m erely base on pre-existing structures that enable the m to m ake specific sentence or story ,w hich parallels closely the relations between langue and parole. 3.Main Activities 3.1 Dissection and Articulation What should a critic do if the text is a function of a syste m ?In the Structuralist Activity ,Barthes suggests ,that the structuralist activity consists of tw o essential parts :dissection and articulation(Barthes 2001).Dissection is to cut the initial text into several parts and find certain m obile frag m ents w hose differential situation causes a certain m eaning(the frag m ent has no m eaning in itself ,but the slightest variation would change the final m eaning of the w hole text). Next ,the dissected units have to be rearranged according to certain rules of association ,w hich is called articulation.Such reco m bination of so m e of the ele m ents in the pre-existing syste m can be regarded as an im portant operation of great originality in literary evaluation.Structuralist activity therefore ,is to aim at revealing the structure of a co m plex thing and the abstract fro m its pheno m enal form. This allows attention to be focused on structural similarities between different pheno m ena in spite of superficial differences.For exa m ple ,In the 1950s Claude Lévi-Strauss ,the Belgian French anthropologist ,first adapts the technique of language analysis to analytic m yth criticism .Lévi-Strauss ,in the study of m ythology ,discovers so m e unchanging ele m ents or ordered patterns w hich are called m ythem es.He finds eleven m ythe m es fro m three Greek tales and arranges them into tw o groups of binary oppositions to deal with the illustration of the Greek Mythology(Lévi-Strauss 2001). 3.2 Binary Oppositions Structuralists ,including Lévi-Strauss ,generally rely on the search for underlying binary oppositions as an explanatory device. They stress that m uch of our im aginative world is structured by binary oppositions ,such as being and nothingness ,jungle and village ,and culture and nature ,and etc. Consequently ,the structuralist critics like to engage in the structures of opposition ,particular binary oppositions and convince that the detailed study of binary oppositions do greatly help to facilitate the understanding of the text.To illustrate ,Hemingway s short story“Cat in the Rain”understood fro m a w o m an s point of view ,presents a corner of the fe m ale world in w hich the m ale is only slightly involved. The Am erican girl is the referee between the actual and the possible.The actual is m ade of rain , boredo m ,a preoccupied husband ,and irrational yearnings ;the possible ,silver ,spring ,fun ,a new coiffure ,and new dresses.Between the actual and possible ,stands the cat.The w hole story can be seen as turning on the opposition between tw o groups of m etony mies —the actual and the possible(Lodge 2002).Binary opposition is not only an analysis device of structuralism but also w here Deconstruction starts to co m e in. 4.Limitation On the w hole ,Structuralism is drawing so m e critics attention because it adds certain objectivity ,a scientific m ethodology to the realm of literary studies w hich have often been criticized as absolutely 211 The Co m parative Study of Structuralis m &Deconstruction   Li Wei &Ding Yan
  3. 3. subjective.Nonetheless ,it is undeniable that there are m any aspects of Structuralism are expecting to be im proved.Firstly ,ittends to be static rather than dyna mic ,and itis also ahistorical because it so m etim es ignores the way history effects the present.Secondly ,it does not m ake m uch difference for structuralist critics on defining w hetherliterary work is the m asterpiece or rubbish because Structuralism in m any ways only prefers the structural analysis of textto the literary evaluation.Furtherm ore ,the individuality ofthe text disappears in favor of exa mining patterns ,syste ms ,and structures.Inevitably ,Structuralism w ould be replaced by another critical school.Levi-Strauss predicted that Structuralism w hich was based on linguistic revolution would take existentialism s place ;however ,it was replaced by Deconstruction. III.Deconstruction 1.Definition and Origin Deconstruction ,initiated by French philosopher and critic Jacques Derrida ,is the particular m ethod of textual analysis and philosophical argu m ent involving the close reading of works in literature , philosophy ,psychoanalysis ,linguistics ,and anthropology to reveal logical or rhetorical inco m patibilities between the explicit and im plicit planes of discourse in a text and to de m onstrate by m eans of a range of critical techniques how these inco m patibilities are disguised and assimilated by the text. 2.Main Activities 2.1 Defférance Jacques Derrida s Structure ,Sign ,and Play is delivered as a conference paper at the height of the Structuralism w hich contains his Deconstruction of Saussure s theory of the sign and announces Structuralism s death.Poststructuralist theory denies the distinction between signifier and signified. Derrida follows Saussure in describing language as a series of supple m ents and substitutions ,but argues that the theory of the sign (a self-sufficient union of signifier and signified)is itself an instance of logocentrism .To indicate this shift in theory ,Derrida introduces the im portant term “différance” (Derrida 2001)to dem onstrate that language and m eaning have no point of origin and no end :the m eaning is always the product of the“difference”between signs ,and it is always“deferred”by a te m poral structural that never co m es to an end.To m ake the step further ,all texts for Derrida exhibit “différance”.He thinks that the literary w orks keeps its m eaning changeable and indefinite under the spatial difference and te m poral deferm ent ;alltexts have a m biguity and because of this the possibility of a final and co m plete interpretation is im possible.Deconstruction is therefore regarded as a new New Criticism in textual a m biguities.In addition ,Derrida puts forward the theory of“iterability alters” (Culler 2004)based on différance.Iterability is the ability of a sign to be repeated again in a new context.“Iterability alters”,just as its na m e im plies ,refers to repeated sign in a new context w hich stands for new set of literary m eanings which are both similar to and different fro m the previous. Repetition in text consequently creates the possibility of a divergence or opposition within a unity of m eaning. 2.2 The Dissolution of the Binary Opposition Derrida says that the history of western thought is always built on the basic units :the binary opposition or pair in w hich one part of that pair is always m ore im portant than the other such as light/ dark ,m asculine/fe minine ,right/left.The superior is“m arked”as positive and the inferior as negative. Derrida called such kind of syste m of philosophy that has rank structure and centers on structure Logocentrism.Deconstruction challenges the explanatory value of these oppositions.As one of its typical analytical procedures ,a deconstructive reading focuses on binary oppositions within a text.This m ethod has three steps ;the first step is to reveal an asy m m etry in the binary opposition ,suggesting an im plied hierarchy ;the second step isto overturn the hierarchy te m porarily ,asifto m ake the textsay the opposite of w hat it appeared to say initially ;the third step is to displace one of the terms of the opposition ,often in the form of a new and expanded definition.In this way ,Deconstructive argu m ents try to recover the subordinated or forgotten ele m ents in literary w orks.In other words ,each of the critic techniques of Deconstruction is variation on the basic idea of reversing conceptual hierarchies.Deconstruction critics always endeavor to m ake the dissolution of the binary opposition in logocentrism .For exa m ple ,signifier and signified were disunited in“Absalo m ,Absalo m !”.and authority center and tradition were denied and dissolved.Toa m as Sutpen is the m ain character and narrative focus in“Absalo m ,Absalo m ”.However , 311 CELEA Journal 72
  4. 4. Faulkner avoids describing him directly in the novel.Sutpen ,as the signified of“linguistic sign”is realized by the different narrators :Miss Rosa ,Mr.Co m pson ,Quentin ,and Shreve.Should the reader believe Miss Rosa or another narrator ?The understanding to the character of Sutpen is unlimited in the literary text.Deconstructionist criticism m akes the m eaning of a text entirely up to the reader. 2.3 Rhetoric of Literary Works Another technique focusing on the rhetoric ,studies the stylistics and w ord choices in literary works. More often the rhetorical features of a text undermine or contradict the them e m ade by the text :What the text m eans is often in tension with w hat it says.Deconstructionists can also look for unexpected relationships between see mingly unconnected parts of a text ,or use the m arginal ele m ents of a text as an uncertain co m m entary on ele m ents w hich appear to be central.Deconstructionists also can play with the m ultiple m eanings or the ety m ology of key wordsin the textto figure out possible conflicts or a m biguities. Puns and plays on words are often used to show interesting connections and unexpected tensions between different parts of the text.Ro m an Jackobson ,a Russian-Am erican linguist and literary critic w ho takesin and develops Saussure s linguistic theory ,puts forward m etaphor and m etony m y based on paradig m atic and syntag m atic relation and argues that m etaphor ,m etony m y ,and other figures of speech have an im portant ,though neglected ,function of supporting w hat is reasonable and w hat is possible in the text. 3.Limitation In so m e respects ,Derrida s alternative to the stability of“structure”is inappropriate ,since the concept of“free play”is controversial with the carefulness of his reading of texts ,and has also been liable to relativism and subjectivism .It is criticized as being entirely subjective ,allowing no way for others to investigate the objective standard of the literary critique.Despite the various critiques of Deconstruction , it has a strong im pact on other critical schools ,such as New Historicism and Fe minist Criticism ,w hich change our m ode of thinking and form a new angle of view of appreciating literary works. IV.Conclusion In conclusion ,Deconstruction rejects Structuralism for various reasons yet still defines itself in relation to Structuralism .Although Derrida argues against the structuralist position taken by followers of Saussure and Claude Lévi-Strauss ,yet they share m any ideas.Both structuralist and Deconstructionist views try to find so m ething outside literature by looking for patternsin the literary texts.They tw o have no particular interestin the declared intention of a work ,and believe that abstract ordering principles are the only essential subject m atter.Their essential ideas about a texts reading and co m prehension are of m utual co m ple m ent and their co m m on purpose isto seek the deep m eaning of works of art.However ,the dissimilarities of Structuralism and Deconstruction outweigh the similarities :m ost im portantly ,the Structuralism regards w orks of art as closed syste m .On the contrary ,the Deconstruction takesit as open system .Secondly ,Structuralism pays m ore attention to deep structure ,but Deconstruction exposes the instability of m eaning and a m biguity of language.Thirdly ,for Structuralism ,the text is static to so m e extent.By contrast ,for Deconstruction ,it s m ore like an extending net ,and elem ent in text keeps changing and recycling.We m ay safely draw the conclusion that Structuralism and Deconstruction have close relationship and exert great influence on literary criticism ,especially ,w orks of art. References Barthes ,R.2001.The Structuralist Activity.In Zhu Gang.Twentieth Century Western Critical Theories(pp. 163-167).Shanghai:Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Brow n ,C.2006. Glossary of Literary Theory :Structuralism. Website accessed on Septe m ber 15 ,2006 at : http ://w w Culler ,J.2004.On Deconstruction(pp.110-133).Beijing :Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. Derrida ,J.2001.Structure ,Sign ,and Play.In Zhu Gang.Twentieth Century Western Critical Theories(pp. 205-207).Shanghai:Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Lévi-Strauss ,C.2001.The Structural Study of Myth.In Zhu Gang. Twentieth Century Western Critical Theories(pp.158-162).Shanghai:Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Lodge ,D.2002.Analysis and Interpretation of the Realist Text :Ernest Heming way s“Catin the Rain”.In Zhang Zhongzai ,Selective Readings in 20th Century Western Critical Theory (pp.180-205).Beijing : Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. 411 The Co m parative Study of Structuralis m &Deconstruction   Li Wei &Ding Yan